Donald Trump turns to Washington lawyer to navigate legal, ethics issues

McGahn getting into an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, Nov 15, 2016 in New York City.
McGahn getting into an elevator in the lobby at Trump Tower, Nov 15, 2016 in New York City.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President-elect Donald Trump on Friday (Nov 25) chose Washington insider Donald McGahn to be his White House counsel, giving him the job of untangling potential conflicts of interest that the New York businessman’s presidency may present.

McGahn, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, had been the chief counsel of the Trump campaign and was one of the few members of the Republican establishment to embrace the candidate.

During his campaign Trump frequently promised to “drain the swamp” of the political establishment in Washington but McGahn has an extensive history in the capital, especially in conservative politics.

He served for years as counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the arm of the Republican Party that oversees campaigns for the US House of Representatives.

During his time at the FEC, he was an advocate for loosening restrictions on campaign spending, and was widely praised for opening up more of the committee’s internal processes to the public.

Trump, a businessman who has never held public office, has real estate and leisure holdings all over the world, sparking concerns that his investments could color his decision-making in office. He has said that he will hand over day-to-day responsibilities of running his company to his children but has resisted calls to place his assets in a blind trust.

Trump also has expressed interest in figuring out how to bypass a federal anti-nepotism law in order to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a formal White House role.

When Trump met with President Barack Obama earlier this month, Obama advised Trump during their Oval Office chat that his White House counsel would be an important job.


Trump, who is spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, also continued to round out his national security team on Friday by naming Kathleen Troia “K.T.” McFarland, his deputy national security adviser.

McFarland, who served in three Republican administrations and was an aide to Henry Kissinger in the 1970s, will work with Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick as his national security adviser.

Neither position requires confirmation by the US Senate.

The appointments came amid reports that Trump’s aides are divided about his choice for secretary of state, with some preferring 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who harshly criticised Trump during the campaign, and others backing Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

Transition officials on Friday downplayed any internal tension, calling reports of discord “overblown.”

Officials said after returning to New York, Trump will meet with several more potential cabinet picks on Monday, including John Allison, the former chief executive officer of BB&T Corp who has been mentioned as a possible choice for US Treasury secretary, and Paul Atkins, a former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission.